Michael Steele appears to be a pleasant enough fellow.  But he is off to a rocky start as chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC).

Within weeks of his election, Steele gave an interview to GQ in which he was quoted as saying that abortion is an “individual choice,” the refrain generally used by “abortion-rights” supporters.  The Republican platform has consistently viewed abortion as the wrongful taking of innocent human life, and the pro-life constituency has been an important part of the conservative Reagan coalition.  After a flurry of protests, Chairman Steele backtracked.  The damage, however, had already been done.  Social conservatives weren’t enthusiastic about Steele’s election in the first place, and this gave them even more cause for concern.

Then the Republicans lost a congressional race that they were expected to win in a special election in upstate New York.  The RNC was blamed for its poor performance on behalf of the Republican candidate.

Nor was Steele helped by a series of critical articles by Ralph Z. Hallow in the Washington Times about the new chairman’s hiring practices at the RNC.

Thus, it was somewhat surprising to see Michael Steele declare in a May speech to his fellow RNC members that “A Republican renaissance has begun!”  In that same talk, Steele also made the point that it was time to quit apologizing “for Republican mistakes of the past.”  Unfortunately, one can’t ignore the damage done to the Republican brand by the failed policies of the Bush presidency.

From my perspective as a former Texas GOP chairman and as a member of the Reagan administration, I can see that Michael Steele’s biggest problem is that he has no understanding of how a coalition of economic and social conservatives was put together in the first place, and no sense of how a new conservative majority could be assembled to address the issues of our times.  The first thing you don’t do is run off the social conservatives.  Those Republicans determined to move the party leftward on social issues need to be reminded that Ronald Reagan carried 49 states in 1984 as a strong pro-life candidate.  More recently, a majority of voters in California (one of the most socially liberal states) rejected same-sex “marriage.”

The Republican Party isn’t floundering because it has taken positions in favor of traditional family values.  We are losing the support of middle-class Americans because we are perceived—thanks to George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Henry Paulson, et al.—as a party that is beholden to Wall Street and Big Business on economic issues and to neoconservative ideologues on major foreign-policy questions.  If we continue down that path, the Republican Party will be in the political wilderness for a very long time.

Our principal objective should be to articulate an economic policy that addresses the concerns of Main Street Americans worried about losing their businesses or jobs in the most serious economic recession our nation has faced since the Great Depression.  That economic plan should be one designed to “put America back to work” by creating private-sector jobs here at home, rebuilding our manufacturing base, and lessening our dependence on unstable foreign sources of energy.  The Obama administration’s so-called stimulus plan does none of that.  It is little more than a package of social-welfare spending, with only a small percentage going for infrastructure and virtually nothing to stimulate the creation of private-sector jobs.  The Obama-Emanuel plan will make a bad unemployment situation even worse.

This is a terrific opportunity for Republicans to take the initiative and get our economy moving again as President John F. Kennedy did in the early 1960’s and President Reagan did in the early 1980’s.  Austin businessman David Hartman, no stranger to readers of these pages, has a proposal which would do just that.  The Hartman Plan would replace our onerous business-tax system with a border-adjusted value-added tax.  Our current tax system rewards debt while penalizing companies that save and invest to create jobs in the United States.  Hartman’s proposal would change all of that by leveling the playing field with our foreign competitors and by keeping good-paying jobs here, rather than exporting prosperity abroad.  Not only would this badly needed business-tax reform help put America back to work, it would also begin the difficult process of rebuilding our hollowed-out manufacturing base.  Moreover, this economic policy would resonate with Reagan Democrats in the hard-hit industrialized states of the Midwest and the Northeast.

Passage of the Hartman Plan would end the dominance over the American economy by Wall Street investment bankers and private-equity moguls who take advantage of the current tax system to burden U.S. companies with high levels of debt and ship American jobs overseas.  David Hartman’s tax-reform proposal puts economic power back in the hands of Main Street producers, small businesses, and the American middle class.

Conservatives need to return to the roots of the Goldwater-Reagan movement and represent the interests of Main Street Americans.  Our goal should be to lead the charge against the economic and cultural elites who control our country, not to become more “politically correct” by compromising our conservative principles to win acceptance by the liberal establishment.  A winning strategy for Republicans is there for the taking if we just have the courage and resourcefulness to take the initiative and bring America home to her founding principles.